The blog of Richard Thompson, caricaturist, creator of "Cul de Sac," and winner of the 2011 Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving 2005, or, I Cover the White House Part 3

Finally someone official showed up to escort the press over to the OEB for the Pardon and we all filed outside again, into the sunshine, wind and cold. And we stood in the driveway and waited some more, so I drew a little bit of the OEB.

Then the all-clear was sounded and our minder led us down the drive and into the loading dock entrance to the OEB. As we squeezed in between the trucks parked there one of the reporters called out "This way you scum! The front door's too good for the likes of you!" and everybody snickered, even me, who was better dressed and unused to such rough treatment. We were led down an endless series of high-ceiling hallways to a bank of elevators with, if I remember correctly, actual uniformed elevator operators. Eventually we made it to the third floor, down another back hall, and into a medium-sized auditorium. This was filled at the back by dozens of cameras and lights hung everywhere. Just as we were filing in, a mass of grade-school children were also entering and I got swept up with them and suddenly found myself sitting in their midst, about 6 rows back. It took me a moment to realize I was in the wrong place, as the rest of the press was all lined up in the back and on the sides, but I was too well dressed to be mistaken for an actual reporter. So I scrunched down and pulled out my sketchbook, and became invisible again.

In front of me was a stage with a door on the left of the back wall, a podium with the presidential seal, some flags and a table covered with handsome blue cloth at about center stage. Busy people kept coming and going onstage, all of them talking into cellphones and peering into the bright lights. Behind me, members of the working press were aiming their cameras and talking into celphones. The kids around me were all shuffling off their coats and chatting and bouncing in their seats. Talking to those around me, I found out they were all from Clarksville Elementary School, and they'd been invited to the ceremony after their school raised more than $17,000 for the Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina relief. They were all pretty excited by the show biz dazzle of the executive branch in full photo op mode.

Pretty soon they got restless and started wondering when something was going to happen and where was the president, anyway? Their teachers, all sitting on the aisle, were telling them to settle down, he'd be out soon, and I told the kids near me to watch the people on stage because it looked like something was about to happen. I don't remember who showed up first, the president or the turkey. But I do remember that just before either of them arrived a few last people with cellphones carefully straightened the rug onstage. Then the door at the back of the stage was opened and President Bush, a turkey, and several turkey wranglers stepped onstage and everyone's attention and camera was focused on them. The turkey wranglers were from the National Turkey Federation, and they carried a large white tom, whose name was Marshmallow, to the table, and he sat there looking unfazed. Bush went to the podium to make his remarks and grant the pardon.

I noticed that Dick Cheney was also onstage, standing in back. He was pink-faced and avuncular and had that little half-smile going on, looking not at all like a war profiteer. I pointed him out to the kids near me.

But they were enchanted by the turkey and kept sitting up higher in their seats to get a better look.

President Bush began his remarks by noting how seriously he took this pardon, and how it confered a measure of responsibility on the two birds. Previously the spared turkeys had been sent to Frying Pan Park, but this year Marshmallow and his back up, Yam, who was in a truck on the South Lawn, would be sent to Disneyland to be the Grand Marshalls in their Thanksgiving Parade. All the kids said Ooooh. Then Bush thanked everyone for being there; the turkey people, and the kids from Clarksville. All the kids cheered. I noticed that Mrs. Bush had stepped into the auditorium by a side door and I pointed out to the kids near me. One asked, what's her name? And all I could think of was Wally (see part 1). I knew that was wrong and I didn't say Wally because I thought that hard-nosed cop might somehow hear and come and haul me away.

When Bush finished everybody applauded and he invited the kids up to meet Marshmallow. I thought about going, but I didn't; my journalistic ethics precluded me from gladhanding the Nation's Turkey. Then it was over, the P and VP exited with a mass of people on cellphones, and the press was ushered out into the back hall. One thing I noticed as we left was the handsome blue cloth covered table was covered in turkey poop, and so was about half the neatly arranged rug. This time the press walked down the stairs and on the way down I chatted with another reporter, a guy in a suit, tie and overcoat like mine. He was from a suburban Virginia paper and he'd never had this kind of glamour assignment either, and consequently overdressed too.

On the walk back to the Post I wrote the cartoon in my head, more or less. When I got there I drew it in about 4 or 5 hours (working away from my studio always takes a psychic adjustment as I'm easily distracted). This what I drew.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cheap Holiday Repeat, Part 2

Another in a series of reruns from last year's blog. This originally ran, in slightly different form, in the Washington Post Magazine. With an illustration by Gene Weingarten.

Sixteen years ago last week, my wife, Amy, and I were about to celebrate our first Thanksgiving as a married couple. We were going to serve a large feast on our new plates on our new table in our newly rented home for as many of our extended family as could make it. The night before Thanksgiving we went to a bar with friends and we had a most festive and enjoyable time, I personally enjoying it more than anyone else. When we got home, in hopes of coninuing my festively enjoyable time, I started dancing around like Fred Astaire would if Fred Astaire danced in his socks.

Our house was old and strangely shaped and it was heated by radiators, big iron monsters, all coils and ribs and flanges. The kind of fixture that would give sensitive children nightmares. I, as Fred Astaire would not, executed a kick that planted my foot squarely into the radiator in the hall, good and hard.

Amy, seeing me suddenly rolling around on the floor, thought I was still enjoying myself, until I pulled my sock off. One toe was bent completely back, and since it was the middle one, it looked like my foot was giving me the toe, if you know what I mean. It was indescrabably funny, in a silent-film-comedy-trauma way. And it hurt like "the dickens". The dickens is when the entire output of Charles Dickens-all 15 hardbound novels, plus journalism, letters and ephemera-is simultaneously dropped from a height and hits you.

The folks at the emergency room were extremely helpful and didn't laugh and didn't yell at me when I did some doughnuts with the wheelchair and knocked over the IV stand. But the nurse on duty did tell me an awful story about when he was in the Navy and won a $300 bet that he couldn't pull all the hairs off the top of his foot with tweezers without screaming. And they gave me some Tylenol 3, the kind with codeine, the kind that comes with the warning that not everybody reacts well to codeine.

So that is how I ended up at the head of our table the next day, Thanksgiving Day, with my mangled foot elevated on another chair, presiding over our first Thanksgiving feast. And that is when, not ten minutes into the meal, I fould out I was one of the people who react badly to codeine. And it was Amy who quickly handed me a bowl, the fancy one that matched our new plates and was fortunately empty, for me to react badly in.

It's been 16 years. The toe's still there, of course, though it's still bent a little funny. The house is gone, or at least so renovated it's unrecognizable, and good riddance; it was an astestos-clad eyesore and a menace.

Somehow, subsequent family holidays have never quite matched that First Thanksgiving for intensity of emotion; not the Christmas of the Flaming Oven Mitt, or the Other Thanksgiving When the Fireplace Blew Up, or that Day or Two Before Easter When We Had to Evacuate Because of a Carbon Monoxide Leak That Almost Killed Everybody.

The only downside is that, ever since I broke my toe that night, I've been forced to draw with my hands.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cheap Holiday Repeat

Since I'm scrambling to finish stuff up so we can flee to Ohio, I'm reposting a coupla things from last year, starting with this. Pretend like you never saw it before.

This is all true, I swear, every word of it. Kids, if you've got a report on Thanksgiving to write, please use this as a source! Then let me know how you did on it, and how the parent-teacher conference went.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving 2005, or, I Cover the White House Part 2

So, feeling over-dressed, I opened the door and stepped into the White House Press Room. I think that's what it's called; it's the place you always see on TV with the podium, the blue curtain, and the blue oval White House sign with the Press Secretary talking in front of it, and all the reporters in front of him. And jeez, what a dump. I've heard it's been cleaned up, but it was like stepping onto a bus full of junior high kids on a long trip, with crap (cameras mostly) piled everywhere and people sprawled all over the place. It was at least half an hour before we'd be led over to the OEB for the Pardoning, and this was a novelty event, not exactly newsworthy, so there weren't any particular big names in journalism to be found. I'd guess they were mostly wire guys, network and cable guys, and some foreign press and most of them were cameramen. I sat down and became invisible, and pulled out a little dinky sketchbook I'd brought along.

I don't sketch much in public and although I've got like a dozen little Moleskin sketchbooks they're mostly full of phone numbers and lists of things. But I figured, here I am being a cartoon journalist, like Steve Brodner or Feliks Topolski, and I'd better for godsake draw something. So I drew the guy sitting in front of me, who had his feet propped up and a newspaper open. On the newspaper page was a photo of a green lizard with a bright pink tongue. 

Presently an attractive blonde woman came out from backstage and began answering questions to an invisible audience. It was Dana Perino doing an interview with no one I could see, but she smiled and gestured and repeated certain lines often enough I understood them to be talking points. I think the questions had to do with the Iraq war, because most of the answers did. Nobody corporeal paid any attention to her. She finished, smiled and left.

There were a few big happy guys laden with cameras on my right, leaning on the wall between the arched windows and laughing about something.

I sat there long enough that I drew them twice.

The combination of tedium and tension was slightly nerve-wracking, and the thought of the two turkeys pent up in a pickup truck somewhere on the White House grounds awaiting their fate (what if the Pardon doesn't come through?) made me kind of hungry.

More TK.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Personal Note to All Those I Owe A Book To

Just a note to all of you who've so patiently waited for me to send you back your signed Cul de Sac book. It's currently up on Ebay and it could be yours for the low price of only $14.31!

NO! NO! I'm only kidding! That part was a joke! Ha ha!

Ok, now that we've all laughed, please accept my apologies for being so slow sending them back to you. I'll try to get them all out in the next week, before we leave for Thanksgiving in Ohio. 'Cause when I come back I'll be too stuffed & logy to move much for at least a week.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thanksgiving 2005, or, I Cover the White House Part 1

Every year since 1947, The National Turkey Federation, originally with the help of the Poultry and Egg National Board, has presented the White House with a live Thanksgiving turkey, a gift that was always welcomed with a ceremony and photo op. And for years the turkey made his way onto the White House Thanksgiving table. Then for some reason, in 1989, President George H. W. Bush officially pardoned the bird, maybe because his feelings for turkey were the same as his feelings for asparagus. And ever since the Presidential Turkey Pardon has become a little piece of what happens in Your Nation's Capitol, through the terms of Bush 1, Clinton and Bush 2. Two birds, a primary and a back-up, would be presented by the Turkey Federation, pardoned by the president in a Rose Garden ceremony, and then trucked out to a happy retirement at Frying Pan Farm Park in Fairfax, Virginia.

And, of course, every year the Washington Post covered it, passing it among the Style section reporters like a not particularly appetizing dish at the Thanksgiving table. There's only so much you can say about an event like this, and most of it is in the preceding paragraph. So in 2005 they asked me to please cover it, attend the ceremony and then draw a cartoon about it. Hello, big time! My first question was, do I have to dress up or what? Gene Weingarten said yes, a suit & tie, which meant I had to get an overcoat as it was supposed to be sunny, cold & windy in the Rose Garden on November 22nd, the date for the ceremony. So I spent the night before at Hecht's buying an overcoat, a pretty nice grey one by Michael Kors, the orange-faced guy on Project Runway, and it was on sale. And I did a little research on the Turkey Pardon, discovering among other things that the president, no matter which one, always made the same jokes in his remarks. The rote nature of the ceremony meant I could start sketching the cartoon in my head and hope that nothing untoward would occur, like Dick Cheney showing up and eating the bird raw before he could be stopped.

The Pardon was set for 1 pm, and I had to go through security, so wearing my new duds I got to the Post around 11 for the letter that'd give me access to the White House. This was handed to me by Robin Groom, Sweetheart of the Style Section, who'd set everything up and told me if I had any problems to ask for Wally (I think it was Wally) and he'd give me a hand. Leaving my drawing supplies at the Post, I walked over to the main gate at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It was sunny, cold & windy, very windy in fact, big fat gusts that tried to knock you down. But with the determination and perseverance that'd made me a White House correspondent at the tender age of 48, I made it to the heavily fortified gate and bellowed through the little hole in the thick glass that I was here to witness the Pardon. I could dimly see two, large happy-looking guards, police or Marines or some special blend, inside the guardhouse, and they shouted back that I should go down to the Old Executive Building entrance down the block. The OEB, right next to the White House, is one of my favorite buildings in DC, partly because it's got ten billion columns on it, and I'd only been in it once before. I walked down to the plaza in front, where a little security tent had been erected and policemen were checking Turkey Pardon attendee's names on an official list. After some back and forth with the guard sitting at a little table it came out that I was Press, or nearly Press, and I should go back to the main guardhouse. There was one guy who kinda stood out in the security detail, a baby-faced slacker kid with a knit cap who looked like Elijah Wood before he'd started shaving. I asked a hard-nosed cop if the kid was Wally and the cop chewed his mustache and barked that We don't call agents of the Secret Service Wally. I hurried back to the main gate.

This time the happy guards let me into the first gate, into the guardhouse, and I presented my letter, my ID, spun around a few times, walked through some sensors, got wanded, and passed through the second gate onto the White House grounds, where it was somehow quieter and brighter, and everything was in Technicolor instead of sepia, but it was still too damn windy. At some point I'd heard that, because of all this wind, the Rose Garden ceremony would be moved into an auditorium in the OEB. I'm sure they were afraid that the turkey would be alarmed by the gusts and might attack the president, and after that pretzel incident no one wanted him assaulted by another food item. I walked up the driveway from the guardhouse to where a crowd of reporters were gathered by the awninged entrance to the press room, a low wing that reaches from the main White House toward the West Wing. The first thing I noticed about my fellow White House correspondents was that they were dressed like middle school kids hanging out at a mall. Everybody was wearing crummy jeans and sneakers and I stuck out like a sore thumb.

More TK, as we journalists say.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hello, San Diego

I got an invitation to attend the massive San Diego Comic Convention next year as a Special Guest . My thanks to the kind people at SDCC, and to Jackie Estrada, who delivered the invitation. The only small hitch is that all attendees are required to dress as either Spiderman, Princess Leia, Captain Crunch or the Phillies Phanatic.

If you check the link you'll note there are some interesting names on the list so far, like the brilliant French polymath cartoonist Lewis Trondheim, and Pearls Before Swine genius Stephan Pastis, known as possibly the second handsomest syndicated cartoonist in America, if he'd only get his hair to behave. The guest list will eventually grow into the tens of thousands. I understand that there's legislation in the works that makes attendance at the SDCC a duty of all US citizens, like being on a jury, and anyone not an attendee will be designated a special guest, and that honor will rotate through the population until everyone has been heard from. So why wait? Go ahead and get your ticket today, and choose a nice costume.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Today's Poor Almanack

Uh-oh, it's that time of year again. We've been getting catalogs for most of a month now, some of them tinged with a little panic at the possibility that this holiday shopping season will be a disaster. My dad tells me he recently drove past a Lord & Taylor, a very elegant, high-end department store that used to kind of scare me when I was a kid. He says they had some kids out by the street with big red & yellow signs trumpeting their big sales. If the lacquered giantesses they used to hire as sales help could see that they'd spin in their vampire coffins, I'm sure.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Thurber Carnival

For the next two weeks, on Friday and Saturday evenings, the play A Thurber Carnival will be playing at The Kellar Theater in Manassass, Virginia. Featured in the cast is my wife Amy, who not only hails from James Thurber's hometown of Coumbus, Ohio, but is also a whiz at acting, prop building, scenery painting and doing spot-on accents (her Sarah Palin imitation will make your hair just about walk off your head). If I were you I'd be buying my ticket now. Hurry!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Because of an error in bookkeeping/editing/counting/drawing, the Cul de Sacs for 11-12 and 1-13 were transposed. This may be traced back to my own innumerancy and clumsiness in telling a joke; i.e., the punch line comes after the set up. My apologies, unless you didn't notice. In which case it didn't happen, and this whole blog post is another dull figment of your imagination.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Obama Again

Here's Obama as FDR for the New Yorker. I didn't get a chance to read the article by George Packer that it illustrates, but the image seemed to fit the brief description of it they sent. Now if Obama can just find himself a Fala.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Today's Poor Almanack

Many of you may have seen this image before, though I don't remember where. With this Almanack I'm retiring the finger puppet concept, at least until I want to draw Rahm Emanuel or Joe Biden.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Never Mind

Please disregard that whiny post of about a month ago. This drawing is in this week's New Yorker. I didn't know about it till Sarah, the nice person at the Cartoon Bank, called today and told me someone was interested in buying the original. I think the suggested retail price ($17.00) might've scared 'em off though.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Balm for Elephants

This ran right after the 2006 elections. With one small edit it works just fine for today. I hope to use it again in the future too.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Well dang, I feel good. At about 11 pm my wife popped open a tiny novelty bottle of champagne that's been in the fridge for 4 months and my older daughter finally went up to bed. Now I've gotta draw an Obama for the New Yorker, 'cause it's due tomorrow morning. Some things never change. But other things do.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Today's Poor Almanack

Here's today's Poor Almanack. Later I'll put up a similar one from four years ago when circumstances were similar. Hope this is helpful if you, like me, haven't yet voted.

And here's the one from four years ago, when passions were a little different if no less intense. At least the Voter Hostess changed her hair.